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It has been recognised for many years that safety would be improved if there were a common system that everyone could become familiar with. Experience suggests that there could also be economic savings in adopting such a system. The unions want it, the Health and Safety Executive wants it and many of the contracting companies want it. The Norwegians have it, as do, just recently, the Dutch. What we have is
endless technical committees and companies trying to cling on to their special system. Again, that has a negative impact on the morale of the work force.
There is huge investment in safety in our oil and gas industry, but it is all meaningless unless the human aspects are addressed. I have raised three critical areasmaintenance, employment practices and working systemswhere I believe the industry acts and has acted to protect narrow interests. It has ignored the wider impact of its decisions, particularly on the morale of its work force and therefore on the safety regime offshore.
In response to the issues that I have raised, my Bill would improve the safety system in the offshore oil and gas industry by doing two things. First, there are many areas of offshore work that require greater external scrutiny, consideration and perhaps intervention. The permit to work system is just one area where the industry collectively and individually has failed to take a wider view and recognise that the interests of safety override individual company preferences. My Bill would strengthen the powers of the HSE to make regulations in areas where there is evidence that common systems are necessary to improve safety.
Secondly, my Bill would bring the regulations dealing with safety committees and safety representatives in the offshore oil and gas industry into line with the regulations in onshore workplaces. The key difference between the two systems is that the onshore regulations have a statutory trade union involvement. The unions can appoint safety reps; they will support them and provide them with professional advice and support wherever necessary. They allow the safety reps to be much more independent of management, which strengthens the safety systems, gives workers confidence and encourages greater involvement and commitment to safety.
Those two measures, by giving the Health and Safety Executive the power to intervene to create common systems where appropriate and to bring a more independent element to the safety committee and representative systems, would, I believe, go a long way to improving the overall safety system in the North sea oil and gas industry. I commend the Bill to the House.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Frank Doran, Miss Anne Begg, Mr. Anthony Wright, Mr. Kevan Jones, Mr. Alistair Carmichael, Sir Robert Smith, Ms Dari Taylor, Andrew Miller, Mark Lazarowicz, Mr. Russell Brown and Jim Sheridan.
Mr. Frank Doran accordingly presented a Bill to make further provision to secure the health, safety and welfare of persons at work in offshore oil and gas industries; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 9 May, and to be printed [Bill 93].
The First Report from the Home Affairs Committee on the Governments Counter-Terrorism Proposals, HC 43, and minutes of evidence taken on 11( th) December 2007 and 19th February 2008, on the Counter-Terrorism Bill, HC 180- i and -ii.
The Second Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights on Counter-Terrorism Policy and Human Rights: 42 days, HC 156, the Ninth Report from the Committee on Counter-Terrorism Policy and Human Rights: Counter-Terrorism Bill, HC 199 and the Government Response, Cm. 7344, and the Tenth Report from the Committee on Counter-Terrorism Policy and Human Rights: Annual Renewal of Control Orders Legislation 2008, HC 356. ]
The primary duty of any Government is to secure the safety of all their citizens. The threat we face from terrorism today is very different in scale and nature from any that we have faced in the past. It is more ruthless, very often aiming to cause mass civilian casualties, without warning, using suicide attacks and even chemical, biological or radiological weapons. It is international, drawing upon loosely affiliated networks across the globe that share not only an ideology, but also personnel, training and funds. It is more complex, exploiting new technology to plan and to perpetrate attacks; and it is on an unprecedented scale, with more than 200 groupings or networks and about 2,000 individuals being monitored by the police and the Security Service in the UK alone. That figure is the highest it has been, and represents a new and sustained level of activity by those who wish to kill and maim and to undermine the values that we all share in this country.
Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): The Home Secretary said in her opening comments that the threat to this country is unprecedented, rising and growing. Yet a mere two weeks ago, Lord West told the Today programme that Britain is a safer place today than it was a year ago. Is he right or wrong about that?
Jacqui Smith: In response to that intervention, I am about to come on to our response to the serious threat that we face. It is because of that response that my noble Friend Lord West was able to make those comments.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con):
My constituency in Essex supplies about 6,000 workers to the City of
London and other parts of the city. Is the right hon. Lady aware that they will be extremely grateful to her for anything she can do to make their working lives in London safer?
We have made far-reaching changes to our strategy to deal with terrorism, and created the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism within Government to co-ordinate our response. We have significantly increased the resources available to deal with terrorism. We have redoubled our efforts to prevent violent extremism from taking hold, because our long-term challenge is to stop people becoming, or supporting, terrorists in the first place. With new funding to support communities and organisations tackling those who promote violent extremism, we will take on the ideologues and disrupt their efforts to radicalise individuals at risk in our society.
Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby) (Lab): My right hon. Friend made a brief reference to increases in the numbers of facilities and individuals in counter-terrorism. What are we doing to ensure that information is shared effectively between the various agencies that now have responsibility in this area?
Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend makes an important point, and in fact elements of the Bill will help to facilitate the sharing of information. We in this country can be proud that we have agencies and a police force who are able to work very closely together in sharing such information, and who are also willing to work with our international partners.
In the long term, we must find ways to prevent people from turning to terrorism in the first place, but in the short term we must pursue vigorously those who commit terrorist crimes and bring them to justice. Since the beginning of 2007 alone, 58 individuals have been convicted in terrorist cases, half of whom pleaded guilty to their charges. Police, prosecutors and others involved deserve our thanks for their efforts, but they deserve more than that. Just as the threat from terrorism evolves, so our laws must adapt to remain effective. We must ensure that those whom we ask to deter, to investigate and to prosecute these most serious crimes have the tools that they need to do the job.
Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): Given that prosecutors can use the lower threshold test of reasonable suspicion to charge a terrorist, why is it necessary for them to be able to charge now and then furnish evidence later? Why is it necessary to extend pre-charge detention when they can charge and then question post charge?
The threshold test is undoubtedly important, and it has been used in terrorist cases. It was, of course, available at the point at which this House previously decided there were arguments for extending the period of pre-charge [Interruption.] Well, it was available at that point, but the House still made the decision that it was necessary then to extend the period of pre-charge detention. The threshold test
nevertheless requires the expectation that sufficient admissible evidence will become available within a reasonable period of time in order to reach the full code test for charging, and there may well be circumstancesalthough I hope fewer than would have been the case previouslywhen that might not be the case. Notwithstanding the important contribution that the threshold test can make, there might still be such scenarios, and I would certainly be willing to write to the hon. Gentleman on what they might be, and to copy that letter to others.
Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend makes an important point. In my opinion, the most dangerous threat to any of our communities, and particularly to our Muslim communities, comes from those who would perpetrate or support terrorism in the name of Islam and by doing so pervert what is an important and honourable faith and religion in this country. By protecting our communities against that threat by bringing to justice those who would choose to do that, we protect our Muslim communities in the most effective way possible.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): The Home Secretary rightly said that we owe the police and prosecutors gratitude for bringing these people to book. Has she taken any notice of the advice of the Director of Public Prosecutions? He does not believe that the extension to 42 days is required.
Jacqui Smith: The DPP has taken the same position that those who saw me in front of the Select Committee on Home Affairs heard me take. I, too, accepted that there has not been, up to this point, a requirement to hold somebody for longer than 28 days. The argument is about whether or not we can all be confident that that would not occur in the future.
Over the past two years we have comprehensively reviewed our existing legislation, identifying areas where we could do more to deal with the current and emerging threat. In particular we want to ensure, first, that full use can be made of all information when investigating and prosecuting terrorist crimes, and secondly that we have effective measures in place to deal with terrorist suspects after they have been charged and convicted.
On the first of those, the Bill contains measures to provide the proper statutory framework to retain and use DNA and other forensic material related to terrorism; to provide statutory gateways for the sharing
of information with the security and intelligence agencies; and to make sure that all information can be used to defend challenges against asset-freezing decisions. The Bill will allow post-charge questioning of terrorist suspects, which many have called for. Taken together with the other measures in the Bill, that will help the police and prosecutors to ensure more successful terrorism prosecutions.
Post conviction, the Bill will ensure that those found guilty of terrorist-related offences receive a sentence that reflects the seriousness of their crimes. There will be a new requirement on convicted terrorists to provide the police with key personal information when they are released from custody, strengthening the arrangements for monitoring terrorist offenders in the community.
From the outset, my approach to this Bill has been to emphasise the importance of consultation and consensus-building. We have consulted widely, and at length, with hon. Members, the public, the police, civil liberties organisations, community groups and the judiciary. Our proposals have been scrutinised by relevant Committees here in Parliament, and by Lord Carlile, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation. I believe that many measures in this Bill have already achieved broad support.
Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): May I caution my right hon. Friend on consensus-building? It is important and I salute the efforts that she and her ministerial colleagues have made, but may I caution her that some in this House, including myself, who voted in favour of 90 days last time are a little concerned that the pendulum is going too far the other way on trying to build consensus? I caution her in that regard, because there is a balance to be struck, and my side of the pendulum does not get as much airtime.
Jacqui Smith: I hope that my hon. Friends side of the pendulum gets a bit more airtime. He rightly says that we have worked very hard, as I have outlined, to build a consensus around measures in the Bill, and I believe that we have succeeded in doing that in the vast majority of those areas. He is right, because in the end it is the Governments responsibility, and mine as Home Secretary, to take advice [Interruption.] It is also Parliaments responsibility. We must take seriously the threat from terrorism and respond to the calls of those whom we task with protecting us from it to provide them with the tools that they need.
Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) (Lab): My right hon. Friend has made her case very well in the past few weeks, but is she not faced with the insurmountable obstacle that the DPP does not want the powers that she is determined to thrust upon him?
I do not believe that the DPP said at any point that he does not want the powers. He is, of course, a public servant, as are the senior police officers who have also made representations to us on the way in which they think we need to furnish them with the tools to tackle terrorism. It is therefore of some reassurance to people that the DPP has a significant role in our proposals for determining whether, as regards pre-charge detention, an application is necessary in an individual case or whether the powers that we propose should be brought into operation. I would suggest that that should
at least act as a reassurance to people that we regard the provision as wholly exceptional and that we have placed significant safeguards around it.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): The Home Secretary says that the DPP is a public servant, but to some extent we are all public servants. We need to take advice and listen carefully to those who know the coal face of counter-terrorism. Did the Home Secretary hear the remarks of Lord Dear on the radio this morning? He said that the 42-day pre-charge extension would be counter-productive and would fuel extremism rather than, as we all hope, being calculated to reduce the chances of terrorism exploding. Will the Home Secretary not listen to Lord Dear?
Jacqui Smith: I am tempted to quote the words of a famous politician, who said that advisers advise, but Ministersand, dare I say it, parliamentariansdecide. I hope that parliamentarians will decide on the basis of the wide range of advice, some of which I shall come to, that directly contradicts some of the other advice to which the hon. and learned Gentleman referred.
I want to turn now to the issue of the period of time that the police have available to investigate and question a suspect before chargethe period of pre-charge detention. That issue has divided the House before, and today has seen that yet again. It is the issue in the Bill that has been the subject of the greatest debate. Indeed, some have questioned why the Government are returning to this thorny issue once again. Quite simply, the response of the law cannot remain frozen when the scale and the nature of the threat are growing.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who is being very generous. Is it not the case that if the 90-day limit had been accepted in November 2005, she would not have come here today to ask for a shorter period of time? She has chosenor the Government have chosen42 days with a trigger mechanism because that is the number of days that they believe they can get through the House of Commons; but there is no evidence whatsoever to support such an extension.
Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): On 6 November last, when the Home Secretary was asked by how long the 28-day period should be extended, she said, I dont know. When did she change her mind?
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